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Izatullah Dawlatzai - An Afghanistan Journey

Izatullah (r) whilst on Tour with MCC
Izatullah (r) whilst on Tour with MCC

MCC had a special guest play for them on their tour to Germany - Izatullah Dawlatzai. 

The former Afghanistan international who played for MCC throughout the week-long tour, is currently attempting to qualify to play for Germany.

So after MCC's second game against Germany had been abandonded due to a thunderstorm, I sat down with Izatullah to discuss his story. 

He started with how he had been discovered in Afghanistan.

He was playing ‘tape ball’ (a version of cricket hugely popular in Afghanistan and Pakistan). He played ‘tape ball’ at the same level as two members of the Afghanistan national cricket team - Shapoor Zadran and Dawlat Ahmadzai.

Zadran and Ahmadzai were so impressed with Izatullah’s ‘tape ball’ ability they asked him to trial for the Afghanistan under 15 cricket side. 

"I said, “why not?”. They selected me for the under 15 team and my journey began from there.”

Izatullah admitted he had actually never followed the progress of the national cricket side whilst he was playing ‘tape ball’.

However, this did not stop him feeling an immense sense of pride when he was selected to play for the under 15 side.

“It was very special for me. When you are representing your country it is a proud moment for anyone. I enjoyed it a lot… it was so amazing”

Being involved with the Afghan national set up helped Dawlatzai off the field as well as on it. He spoke of the respect he commanded and how it made his everyday life substantially easier.

People in Afghanistan are crazy about cricket especially when they see our players they just love them

“I got so much respect in Afghanistan, people loved us. People in Afghanistan are crazy about cricket especially when they see our players they just love them.

"I had everything, people loved me so much. Cricket has given me so much. Playing cricket for Afghanistan, (has given me) so many things I don’t even deserve. But when you are playing good cricket, people love you.”

With his life substantially improved off the field, Izatullah’s development on the field had impressed.

Still a teenager, he made his ODI debut for the national side against Kenya in 2010. He played in the 2012 T20 World Cup held in Sri Lanka and helped Afghanistan qualify for the 2015 World Cup.

He played during a period of monumental success for Afghan cricket that gained widespread media attention for their unprecedented rise.

“There are so many stories because I have seen everything – the entire journey of Afghanistan cricket. Everything changed so quickly.

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Dawlatzai in action for Afghanistan

"I think the best moment for me was when we qualified for the 2015 World Cup which was in Australia and New Zealand. It was so amazing when we qualified. We were in Dubai, we had a match against Kenya when we won that we qualified directly. We were so emotional. I think that was the best thing that ever happened to us.”

Unfortunately, Izatullah’s international career with Afghanistan came to an abrupt end in 2015. He was forced to leave Afghanistan for love.

“I had some family problems. My fiancée was living here (Germany). When two people are in a relationship the distance is a problem when you are living too far from each other. She was born here (Germany) but she is Afghan. We couldn’t meet a lot so I decided to move here. I was in England for two months. My brother lives there, he told me to stay but I wanted to go back to Germany.”

Now living in Hamburg with his betrothed Izatullah’s focus has returned to cricket.

He returned to playing at the start of the season and has aspirations to play for the German national side and will qualify for them in two years time.

For now he plays club cricket for KSV Cricket Club but he divulged his struggle to play as regularly as he would like.

“I can’t find regular cricket here (Germany). It’s so difficult for me to maintain my fitness and stay in touch with cricket.

"I think that is the only problem I am facing here, not only me but everyone is facing here.

"We play once or twice a week and it’s not enough for a professional player. If you are aiming to play good cricket it’s not enough.

"I will qualify (to play for the national side) in two years so until then I have to play domestic cricket… it’s the only way to stay in touch with cricket.”

Izatullah’s struggle to play a large amount of cricket to a high standard has been eased with M.C.C.’s tour.

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MCC & Hattersheim CC during the Tour 

“It’s so good a team like M.C.C., which is one of the best and oldest clubs in the history of cricket tour Germany.

"I hope that many other teams come here. It’s so good for the cricket of Germany, it will improve and many people will be interested in cricket. (The standard) will improve a lot when you are playing against one of the best clubs, you are definitely going to get a lot of experience. It will help (German cricketers) a lot.”

His former heroics for Afghanistan has resulted in him being recognised off the field and a bit of an inspiration for refugees. Throughout the week he was asked for signatures and pictures from opposition teams and spectators.

“I think a lot of guys know me right now because (at first) they didn’t know I was here. Since German Cricket TV uploaded my video everybody (has been) surprised. (They are) like what is he doing here?! When they see me they are so happy and excited.”

Cricket is the fastest growing sport in Germany but Dawlatzai believes it still has a way to go to compare to Afghan cricket.

“Cricket in Germany is getting better day by day. I have seen so many players here that are so talented. But you can’t compare it to Afghanistan right now. Afghanistan is doing so well. Domestically their cricket board is so good, doing everything very well (and the) national team, are playing brilliantly right now.”

However, the speed the game is growing in Germany - due to the huge influx of refugees from Afghanistan - will surely lead to the country rapidly improving in terms of standard.

Izatullah believes the refugee’s hold the key to Germany’s success.

I have seen that excitement with Afghanistan and I hope it come true with the national team of Germany also

“I have seen the (German) national team, many of them came a few years ago. They were refugees and they are playing in the national team right now. A lot of talent came here (to) Germany, I think up to 300,000 refugees especially from Afghanistan. They moved here and if (Germany looks) after them they will get a lot of talent.

“A lot of clubs are here. In Germany I think they have 120 something. If (German cricket) look after the clubs they will find good cricketers that can play for Germany.

“I hope that cricket in Germany increases a lot and they (get) to the stage that many professional teams play. It will me amazing for me because I have seen that excitement with Afghanistan and I hope it come true with the national team of Germany also."

Since conducting this interview – Germany have won a tournament in Holland that sent them back into the I.C.C. World Cricket League. 

It seems that, if they can follow Izatullah’s advice about nurturing and subsequently utilising the refugee talent pool they have received – not to mention the promise of Izatullah himself qualifying in two years - Germany will continue improving, and maybe one day be on the same pedestal as Afghanistan.

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